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Interview: Five Horse Johnson

Pure metal...interviews

When I was told that I was going to interview Eric from Five Horse Johnson, the only information I had was that the bandís frontman is quite fond of alcohol. What Karl Demata didnít tell me is that Eric is one of the friendliest people on Earth. This helped to make this interview a quite enjoyable experience.

Hi Eric.What brings you to cold and dumpy London?

Eric: Well, weíre touring here in the UK for the last three weeks. We have one more week to go and Iím in London today to do some interviews and hang out. I will go back to work tomorrow.

You are on tour in order to promote your latest album "The Last Men on Earth". Do you want to tell us a few things about it?

Eric: Sure. This is the first album that we have our new drummer Mike completely playing on, Michael and Iím very proud of it. Itís very Hard Rockiníand has many different tricks in it.

After listening to the album, I came to the conclusion that most of the songs of the album have obvious influences from band like Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, especially "Cherry Red". Care to comment?

Eric: Yes thatís true. By the way, "Cherry Red" is our first video for the album. Itís on the webside if you want to see it, and they also show it on Scummy TV. This song is also a single.

I have checked many reviews on the Net, and most of the reviewers are referring to you as a Stoner band. Do you accept that term?

Eric: Well...not really, but I appreciate the bands. Itís cool that they like us. We love Stoner Rock and we listen to many of the bands that belong in that genre, but weíre definitely not one of them. We are very heavy, but not quite as down-tuned and not as quite as hairy (laughs). It gets confusing a lot, but whoever wants to listen to us is more than welcome. I wouldnít want to say that weíre exactly a Stoner Rock band and I believe that Stoner Rock fans will probably believe the same thing. I believe that these fans like us because our music has the same kind of vibe as bands that Stoner Rock was influenced by, like Black Sabbath, MC5, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

When did you first start writing material for the new album?

Eric: This is the longest album it ever took us to write. It took us a year and a half in order to finish writing it, mainly because we were touring so much that we didnít have time to sit down and write any songs. We had plenty of pieces then and there and it took us three months to put them all together and record the songs. We used a studio which was located in Detroit (Rustbelt Studios). It was very arduous, it was a tough trip but that was the mission we had to accomplish. Everything was exactly where we needed it so we figured: "letís take as much time as we need and make it right". I think that it came out good, itís what we wanted it to be at least.

The production of the album is really good. How did you manage to create such a sound for the album?

Eric: Iíll tell you. Our buddy Al (Al Sutton, the producer) has mixed and produced our last three albums. He works with many big names, and decided to work with us Ďcause he likes our band, and weíre friends with him. He does the Kid Rock and all this kind of stuff - he does big, million selling records.

He has a very good ear for raw Rock and used to produce a band from Detroit called Big Chief that I used to play harmonica with and has that short of vibe that we go for production wise. Just a real good solid mean sound. He knows our band and he also knows our personalities, he knows what we want. I think that this is a really important thing that many producers do not seem to get.

A lot of the way a band should sound reflects on the personality, not necessarily just the music itself. A band like Lynyrd Skynyrd was around the same time as Neil Young, but they are so totally different.

What are the songs of this album all about? Can you make something like a small introduction for every song?

Eric: Let me see: "Cry Rain" is really heavy - the most Zeppelin song that we have ever written. We had a really interesting review for our record where the guy who wrote it said that it sounded like a Pearl Jam song, which I thought that was weird, but...whatever (laughs). "Cherry Red" is our single with a ZZ Top vibe to it. "Soul Digger" is Bradís baby and he sings in it. I really love the harp and the guitar solo in that song - I sing backing vocals on that song. This is also a song that we play a lot live cause we really enjoy performing it on stage."Three at a Time" is the weirdest one, and the closest to what we call Metal or Stoner Rock song.

I have to admit that this is the song that I like the most from the album.

Eric: This one? The weird thing is that this was the very first song that we wrote for this album. We had that song for almost three years. When we first wrote it, a lot of people didnít really like it cause in their opinion it didnít sound like Five Horse Johnson.

And what does that mean, by the end of the day?

Eric: Well, exactly! I sing my vocals through a special mic, make them kind of freaked out. We do that live sometimes too. The lyrics are very sad, typical Blues lyrics. "Blood Donít Pay" is a really cool Big Chief kind of riff, a band that we used to play with and that we were really influenced by. Our friend Ethan Davidson, who has his own career going sings backing vocals on this song. "Love 2 Lose" is going to be our next video, and the next single for the record...

The title sounds a bit like Motorhead.

Eric: You think so? That song came out exactly how we wanted it - short of Ďpop-yí but also really heavy. The lyrics are also really good. Itís like a "Iím Sorry" kind of letter to a certain someone that I used to live with. I was in a sort of different state of mind at the time...itís something like an "Iím sorry" letter "but you never know that I just told you so. "Sweetwater" is cool. Thatís a song that Brad wrote about beer, about drinking and having fun with our friends and how that keeps us going - Itís like our fuel. "B.C.Approved" is a good one. An idea that a friend of ours Greg from Raging Slab came up with.

Long time ago, he wanted to start a thing called The Boogie Coalition, where all the bands that we like that are good boogie Rock bands would participate. Thatís what the lyrics of the song are about. "Sawhill" is a weird crazy Brad story some have to read the lyrics of this song. There are more words in that song than there are in a dictionary (laughs). Itís a great song. We are trying to work on it live, but Brad has to sing and play the guitar at the same time, and there are so many words he has a hard time with. Thatís the only song that we havenít managed to pull of live yet. "Yer Mountain" is a sort of hidden way talking about "making love" song. Thatís also a really good song that we play live a lot.

Since you mentioned touring. How do you like touring in Europe, and how different are the European crowds in comparison with the American ones?

Eric: One of the thing that I noticed and itís the same in both continents, is that we get a very wide variety of people everywhere weíve been like here in the UK, in Spain, Scandinavia. Same thing happens back home. We get some Metalhead guys, some Blues guys, many bikers and plenty of Punk Rock kids coming to our shows. Itís a good mix of different crowds and thatís the main thing that Iíve noticed. I prefer to tour here though, cause America is a very tough nut to crack. Unless you have plenty of money behind you, things are very difficult.

How happy are you with your collaboration with Small Stone Records?

Eric: Weíre really happy, itís a good label. Itís sort of like a Stoner Rock/Metal label. We were one of the first band that they signed...

You have been with them since your second album if I remember correctly...

Eric: Yes, thatís correct! You did do your homework (laughs). The label is good because Scott lets us make whatever the hell records we want - he just doesnít care. Heís like: "make anything you want to do". If we want to make a Jazz record next, heíll let us make a Jazz record, and thatís whatís really cool about it. Thatís exactly what I like about this whole thing.

The only problem that we have with the label, and thatís not Scottís fault, is that we have such a limited financial budget. We have such a big demand for our CDs but thereís not really enough capital there to press enough of them. So if anybody out there has got some money to throw at us...(laughs), that would help. Apart from the limited budget, this is one of the best situations that Iíve ever been in, recordings wise and releasing records.

Scott is a very good friend of ours and that really helps. We keep in close contact with him, when weíre here and when weíre home. Weíve kind of grown with the label. The label and the band have blossomed at the same time in a way, and thatís cool.

I really enjoyed the album cover. There are no hidden messages of any short, everything is in plain view. Are you totally against the constitution of marriage?...(I laugh)

Eric: (laughs) What the bride in the cover represents is reality. Weíre running like hell away from reality and in the back, weíre in the van and weíre really happy that weíre there (laughs). Thereís the little house and the wife standing there and weíre like "Goodbye, weíre back on the road again" and act like children again (laughs).

Youíve been around for quite a while now. What is your actual motivation, why are you doing this - being in a band and all?

Eric: We have a great time touring - we just love it! We love playing live and we love hanging out too, weíre all really good friends. Every time we go and see something new, weíre all so very excited. We got to go to Slovenia and Croatia quite recently. We are also going to play in New York and Chicago. We get to do things that if I was an accountant or a Lawyer, I wouldnít necessarily get to do. Ah, we are also going to tour Australia this year. Thatís our main motivation. We love playing, we love writing songs and we get to travel around and see stuff. Itís a great job to have.

I was recently talking with Janice (bass) and John (drums) from Fireball Ministry who also hated the idea of being something like an accountant. The exact same profession. Isnít that amazing?

Eric: Yeah, I talk to that guy all the time. Heís a great person and we always come to the same conclusion: "Who would want to do that?" Someone had to do that I guess...but being in a band is a good job to have. There are days that things will be better, and weíre working on that now.

Which are the bandís plans for the future?

Eric: Well..weíre going to finish this tour, go home and write and record our next CD...

Again with the same label?

Eric: Probably yes. Then weíre going to Australia and also try to do a tour in Japan while weíre there. This summer, before all of this, we are going to come back to the UK and mainland Europe to do some festivals. We also going to try to do a small tour back home in the States, and thatís all we have planned so far. We would like to get to the point where we could kind of quit our little tidy crappy jobs that we have, and make this our full-time machine gig.

We tour something like seven months every year, and the rest of the time we have to pay the rent, cause touring basically pays for itself but it doesnít pay for while weíre not involved so then we have to get back to our regular jobs which weíre fortunate to have jobs that let us do that kind of thing.

The good thing about the music we play is that itís not necessarily a young kidís kind of music, so weíre not going to feel silly in ten-fifteen years time. Look at bands like the Rolling Stones or Robert Plant and the rest of the Zeppelin guys that theyíre still out there playing and recording albums. The do not look silly trying to be kids, theyíre just doing really good music,... like Eric Clapton. Hopefully weíre going to keep our health for a long time and be on the road.

Donít know if youíll agree with me, but there seems to be a revival in this whole scene.

Eric: I think so too. Itís funny, but weíre discovering that there are more and more people that are into Rock music and want to learn more about it. There are a lot of people who feel like "Ah, this is something that we may have missed - letís go and see it", but there are also new kids coming and thatís really good.

Well, I wish you all the best Eric - you and the band. Something for the grand finale?

Eric: Bring your drinking boots, thatís all I can tell you. And please come, and bring your friend...and bring your hot sister!

Interview © 2004 John Stefanis

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